August 28: Story Challenge in 99-words

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

August 29, 2022

I’m stuck in O’Hare International Airport, and so many flights are delayed there’s no seating for everyone gathered. Rain pelts the windows facing the F-concourse where my husband worked for the airlines back in the1990s. The golden era of flight back when I wore a pin on my jacket proudly proclaiming, “I Love to fly!”

It’s been a downhill slide after 9/11.

I could bemoan the industry with stories from this single day. Travelers are cranky, and employees (if you see any) are crankier. Digital systems drive everything. You can’t fly without a smartphone. The “contactless” systems startled me since I haven’t flown in a while but my flight to New York was smooth. Not so much on the way back. However, my trip was a good one, and that’s the story I will tell while I sit in O’Hare with other delayed passengers who are sharing their travel tales like we are waiting pilgrims.

New York state is beautiful. I landed in Buffalo on Wednesday and Sue Spitulnik picked me up in a forest green Lexus SUV. We rode in style to Niagra Falls and I watched in awe as the water that begins with Lake Superior and makes its way over rapids and falls between New York and Canada. I never knew that visitors could stand right next to the top of the falls. The rising mist felt good on my skin.

The next day, Sue lowered the roof on her red Mini Cooper convertible, and — surprise, surprise — we visited cemeteries. First, she took me to Mount Hope Cemetery where Susan B Anthony is buried. It’s the largest cemetery I’ve explored to date. We even found abandoned plots on a hillside at the back where I was delighted to see a boulder on a grave. A boulder! And not just any boulder but what we call a pudding stone in Michigan.

From Rochester, we drove to explore murals in small towns and other smaller cemeteries with family ties to Sue. It’s a personal way to learn stories of families rooted in a region. One cemetery sat on top of a rural hill above an old battle site. It felt peaceful. The murals we visited each were different and reminded me of how the stories in our collections each week differ, expanding the capacity of art. It was the best (first) convertible adventure I’ve had.

That night we got down to business and I presented to Sue’s veteran writing group. She is an organized leader of her local groups and had members attend in person and on Zoom. We had a good discussion and I ended with one of my 99-word stories I thought the group would like. It’s a personal challenge to pick stories for people and I hit the mark. The Lt. Col. in the group asked for a copy and I said, “Sure, I’ll give you this story and a penny if you give me a dollar.”

Friday was a day of viewing the vistas of the New York Finger Lakes with Sue and her husband, Bob. After a Greek breakfast at Steve’s, we were back to the Lexus and I felt like I was on a luxury tour. Bob held open both our doors, played blues music on the radio, and talked about the views of each lake. Sue introduced me to quilt fabric stores! Her art — and her quilts are indeed art — amazed me with how she can calculate designs. We ended the day with a white-hot (a New York hot dog).

Saturday, Sue put on an all-day seminar with two sessions and lunch. I was the guest presenter. Session One was Revision, and Session Two was Marketing. We began with a call to 9-1-1. Our emergency? The Town Hall was not open where we were to set up the seminar. Sue took charge and got it resolved and we only started 15 minutes late. It was a good crowd, about 30 people. That night, she and Bob took me out to a Rochester creation called a Chicken French — lemony, garlicky, and served over angel hair pasta.

The food, fun, and friendship keep me smiling despite this long delay in Chicago. Hopefully, I’ll get to Hancock with some time to sleep before my first day back at FinnU. I’ve had conversations — and overheard others — to fill up my afternoon and evening. Our challenge this week will put you in a red convertible for your own adventure.

Maybe someone will pick me up and take me north to the Keweenaw!

August 28, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that features a red convertible. Who is driving or riding? Where is the car going? Maybe it isn’t even a car. Have fun and go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by September 3, 2022. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Carrot Ranch only accepts stories through the form below. Accepted stories will be published in a weekly collection. Writers retain all copyrights.
  3. Your blog or social media link will be included in your title when the Collection publishes.
  4. Please include your byline which is the name or persona you attribute to your writing.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99Word Stories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts in social media.

Submissions are now closed. Find our latest challenge to enter.

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  1. Norah

    What an amazing adventure with Sue and her family. I’m so pleased you enjoyed it. I hope that red convertible (disguised as a plane) picked you up in no time and deposited you safely back in the Keweenaw. A fun prompt this week.

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Norah! It was a lovely trip but unfortunately that red convertible plane canceled and United refused to pay for hotel rooms. However, I spent the night in the company of women who banded together in the comfiest corner we could find in the airport. I have befriended a young PhD student headed to Michigan Tech from Bali. What a night yet it’s 4:30 am and we still have two hours until our flight.

      • Norah

        Oh dear, Charli. I’m pleased you found the silver lining in a new friend. I hope that flight turned up!

      • Charli Mills

        Finally, late the next afternoon we arrived home!

  2. robertawrites235681907

    Hi Charli, what a fun adventure you had with Sue. I am glad the seminar ended up going well. There is nothing more off-putting than a rocky beginning and it’s great you all bounced back so well.

    • Charli Mills

      Just a hiccup, Robbie! It was a good time all the way around, just not the delays getting home. I’m supposed to teach and had to stay overnight in the airport. Another hiccup.

      • robertawrites235681907

        I always say that happiness is contentedness with a sprinkling of obstacles, highs and lows.

      • Charli Mills

        Ha! That’s a fantastic saying, Robbie.

  3. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Hard Night’s Day

    “Pal, look’t on the horizon. Rider comin in on a sorrel hoss.”
    “Slumped in the saddle, thet rider looks like she’s asleep at the reins.”
    “Yep, converted the back a that hoss inta a couch!”
    “Why, Kid, thet’s Shorty a-comin in. Let’s hep her off thet hoss.

    “Shorty, wake up, ya made it back ta the ranch.”
    “So tired. Coffee?”
    “Yeah, Shorty, we’ll get ya some coffee.”
    “No Shorty, ya gotta work.”
    “Yep. Ya know, where ya convert yer skills an passions inta pecuniary currency.”
    “Currently? What day is it anyway?”
    “It’s t’day, Boss. Like no other.”

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Cookin Up Solutions

      “Whoa. Stop. Back up. There ain’t nuthin pecuniary at Carrot Ranch literary Community. Nobody has ta pay, Pal.”
      “’Less’n they wanna hit thet button.”
      “Shorty needs ta git ta Headquarters. Pronto.”
      “Yer right Kid. We need Pepe Le Gume an his hot air balloon.”
      “Aw, Shorty loves travelin with Pepe!”
      “It’s gotta be a red balloon, an the top’s gotta be down.”
      “Done an done Pal. I’ll fetch Pepe.”
      “Uh, Shorty… yer flight’s been delayed.”
      “Whut, Kid? Why?”
      “Easy Pal. Believe it or not, Pepe is outta gas.”
      “Ah shift! Shorty, where ya goin?”
      “Cookhouse. Time ta make beans!”

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        Shorty’s Jib

        “Uh, Shorty? How long since ya slep?”
        “What month is it? Everything’s fine Pal.”
        “Ya done spillt the beans ya was tryin ta cook up. Now yer slippin an slidin all around the cookhouse an yer laughin souns like Kid’s kid goats.”
        “Help me pick up those beans Pal! We need gas for Pepe’s hot air balloon! I need to get back to HQ!”
        “Yea… Pepe says he’s all gassed up now, but, uh, there’s some weather comin, so, no go.”
        “Blowin north?”
        “Kid, I’ll buy that oversized hat of yours.”
        “Shorty! It’s not fer sail.”

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        Head Quartered At Last

        *So, d’spite Kid’s warnins an worryins, Shorty set sail fer HQ up in the upper Upper Peninsula. She held thet oversized hat thet Kid had picked up a prompt or two ago, and let the unsettled air a the Midwest fill it an take her north at last.
        Kid warn’t the only one was worried. Poor ol Frankie kep an eye on the weather the whole time. Fin’ly Frankie an Pepe was able ta git ta HQ in the balloon an come back with a piece a airmail from Shorty. Letter said: ‘All is well.’
        You word coun’ers an rule followers’ll note there ain’t no red convertible, an this response’s twice over 99 words, but I reckon Shorty’s soun asleep an won’t even notice, so let’s jist let it go this once.
        G’night Shorty. Hope thet trip was worth the 99 cent ya made off thet poor ol fella. Reckon it’s all a part a yer dreams gittin off the groun, all thet literary outreach, but it warn’t so clear yer flyin machines was gonna be as successful. Logatha spoke fer us all when she commented what a load off it was knowin Shorty’d landed safe an soun.*

    • Charli Mills

      The trip was worth all these Shorty stories fer sure! Tell Kid, thanks for shovelin’ and helpin’ with the smooth sailing.

  4. pedometergeek

    What a lovely trip, and the 99 cent story (penny for a dollar), what a great idea. Pudding stone? Had to check the link and learned so much (on Lake Erie shores, we find conglomerate stones, but I always associated them with asphalt and bricks.). Maybe I need to re-examine them, and use ‘pudding stone’ in a haiku or two; thanks for the inspiration. Glad you made a friend and made it back home. ~nan

    • suespitulnik

      Nan, Charli sold that story so fast that the Lt Col did a double take after he handed her the dollar. I had a good laugh over it.
      Last week’s prompt was difficult for me and this week she gave me one I have 1000+ real-life stories for. My hubby and I drove the Mini across Rt. 66 three years ago, yes, all the way to CA. Now I need to think out of the box for my serial.

      • pedometergeek

        Sue, what a great adventure with Charli, your car, and then again your and your husband’s trip across the country. Route 66 is iconic as you well know. Outside the box? Detour to Wall Drug, perhaps? I know you’ll rise to the occasion though.
        Last week’s prompt was difficult for me, too, so I understand.

      • suespitulnik

        Thanks, Nan. My hubby likes to get involved when I need to think out of the box. Sometimes a man’s point of view is just what I need.
        Charli loved having her car door opened for her. We had a blast.

      • Charli Mills

        I got so spoiled by Bob opening my door. Sue is his Queen, and I felt like a visiting Princess!

    • Charli Mills

      Nan, pudding stone haiku would be a good mix! There are all kinds of conglomerates and they are fun to examine, natural or created. I’m so happy to have landed 24-hours later!

      • pedometergeek

        I will have to give them (pudding stone haiku) a try. There are some real possibilities there. I think anytime one travels (or maybe I am just speaking for myself here), delaying returning to home is just depressing. It’s fun to leave, but it’s an even better feeling coming home. ~nan

  5. Jules

    What a great adventure with Sue and her family. I’m not that orgainzed for anything…I’m still sorting stuff to bring in from my interior house flood.

    Airports are good places to meet folks. That’s where our neice met her hubby!! And believe it or not those lovely twins are 6 months old.

    Hopefully you have a small package waiting for you when you get home – I’ll think on this prompt next month 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Jules! I’m finally home, wearing comfy carrot socks! Thank you for the summer package. it was waiting on my desk when I arrived. Oh–I didn’t realize the twins’ parents met at an airport. I was thinking of all kinds of stories in my long stay. Romance would be a fun one.

      • Jules

        We didn’t know about how they met for a while either!! ????

        There are some scary airport movies too… like the one where the folks got off the plane and everything was in slow motion… out of time phase. Airports are great places to people watch. Glad you met some good folks too. 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        I’m glad I escaped any timewarps!

      • Jules


  6. Colleen Chesebro: WordCraftPoetry

    What a fun time you had with Sue. Hopefully, you’ve made it back home safely. Happy new school year! ????

    • Charli Mills

      Whew –I’m home and in the classroom! Looking forward to a great school year. Such interesting students. Thanks, Colleen!

  7. Gloria

    You lead such an adventurous life Charli! ????

    • Charli Mills

      I hope so, Gloria! 😉

  8. ellenbest24

    I loved the story the friendship with Sue, and the cars. Thank you for sharing. I wish I had met you all there. I’d have sat at the back of the seminar in awe.

    • Charli Mills

      It would have been fun to have you in both the back of the seminar and the car, Ellen!

  9. Doug Jacquier

    There you go, pudding on airlines and graces again. 🙂 For me, true air travel ended with 9/11 and has since spiraled into Dante’s seventh circle of Hell. I now can’t believe I travelled 250,000 kilometres by air in my last working year; I can only think I managed to clone myself. 😉

    • Charli Mills

      I agree, Doug! I used to love to fly and after this last experience in Dante’s Inferno, I’m looking to water for travel inspiration. It’s okay to slow the pace and miles. That’s a lot in a single year for even you and a clone.

    • pedometergeek

      Great puns there, Doug!

  10. Anne Goodwin

    A great adventure with Sue, Charli and hope you got home safely. I’m so glad my days of overnighting in airports are over! PS I cheated with the prompt … or maybe I went where it led.

    • Charli Mills

      I arrived home safely, Anne. I’d like to say my overnighting days are over, too. Ha! that’s right, it’s not cheating; it’s following the prompt.

  11. Jennie

    I love this story! What a great weekend with Sue. It’s ‘just what the doctor ordered’.

    • Charli Mills

      Definitely, Jenny! It was fun and relaxing and stimulating all at once. Got me revved up for school.

      • Jennie


  12. Nicole Horlings

    Sounds like it was a great trip!

  13. suespitulnik

    Charli, We so enjoyed having you visit. I am sorry and disgusted the last leg of your trip turned into a 24-hour inferno experience. I hope getting a bonus daughter out of the deal made it acceptable. From our discussion during the seminar, I have gained an interview at the local Veterans Outreach Center to discuss my vets’ group’s first book, and also an invite to do a podcast with a local charity to talk about the same. Thank you.
    As I waited for news that you were finally home, one of our musician friends posted on Facebook where he took a visitor around the city of Rochester. I chuckled, as we only showed you the skyline and went rural. Now we know where my heart is. I have had fun showing people my now internationally famous Mini Cooper. Big Hugs. Come back soon.

    • Charli Mills

      Sue, I loved how you and Bob opened your home, hearts, and rural vistas to me. You opened the top on your famous Mini Cooper, too! I could probably travel faster in my kayak following the Great Lakes to you than flying United (Disrupted) Airlines. 😉 Good job landing an interview at the local VOC and let us know when you do your podcast. Big hugs, back!

      • suespitulnik

        I wouldn’t have gotten that interview without you doing the seminar. Thank you.

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